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House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Come on.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

That is not true.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Let me state the facts. The Bloc Québécois transferred $732,000 to local candidates during the 2006 election.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

Where?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

And the local candidates paid their national party $820,000.

Regarding this amount of $732,000 that the Bloc Québécois transferred to its candidates for local spending, I wonder if local candidates were reimbursed by Elections Canada? Can the hon. member tell the House if Canadian taxpayers had to reimburse the money transferred to local candidates?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a very brief comment and then a question.

What Canadians find so distressing about the fact that we are debating this issue is that despite all of the supposed changes as a result of the Liberal sponsorship scandal, there are still very questionable practices by political parties that are under the microscope here. There are very serious issues we should be dealing with, but we are not and that is what is so distressing. Certainly what is distressing to me and my colleagues is that we are not dealing with climate change, as we should. We are not dealing with health care issues, as we should. We are not dealing with job losses and the growing prosperity gap.

I understand the parliamentary secretary to be taking the position, which he has now stated at least twice, that it is not illegal to transfer money from the central campaign to the local campaign, as after all, all the parties do it. I think that is true, and I do not think that is at issue here. But it is my understanding that is not what the Conservative Party is alleged to have done and why that party is under investigation by Elections Canada.

It is my understanding there are strong suspicions that the Conservative Party has devised a scheme to get around the spending limits and it may indeed have broken the rules with respect to local officials being required to authorize local ad buys before there is any basis for reimbursement.

Does the member not see a distinction between the issue of transferring money and doing it within the rules and the possibility of having devised a scheme that exceeds the spending limit and breaks the law that requires that local campaigns have to approve of such expenditures for them to be legal and authorized?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the former NDP campaign director, Robin Sears, indicated that what the Conservative Party is doing is exactly the same thing as what all the other parties do.

The member talked about schemes. I want to refer to an NDP candidate in Saanich—Gulf Islands. The documentation that the Saanich—Gulf Islands NDP filed with Elections Canada includes a letter from the NDP national office to the local NDP association on March 31, 2006 entitled “Transfer from the Federal NDP to assist with election advertising”. It states, “Enclosed please find a transfer cheque from the Federal NDP.... The Federal NDP has invoiced the Official Agent requesting reimbursement for this local advertising so that it will be included in the Candidate's Electoral Campaign Return”.

In other words, the money was transferred to the local NDP campaign with the express understanding that it would be transferred right back to pay for centrally purchased advertising and the local NDP candidate in Saanich—Gulf Islands was able to claim a reimbursement from Elections Canada.

Can the member stand in her place and explain how that is any different from what Elections Canada accuses the Conservative Party of doing?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with a very distinguished member of the House, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

First, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, for putting forward the motion before us today in this House. I have worked closely with the Bloc’s chief whip, because he was a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with me. As he said in his speech, the Conservative Party has been filibustering that committee for several months now.

I know how important this issue is to the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord and the Liberal Party. We would therefore thank the Bloc for using its opposition day to bring a matter before this House today that is this important and fundamental to Canadian democracy. This will also be an opportunity for members to express their full confidence, tonight, not only in Elections Canada—the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand, who was appointed to that position by this government—but also in the conduct of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, Mr. Corbett. As you know, the position he holds is very different from the Chief Electoral Officer, but the work he does is absolutely essential to Canadian democracy, because he is responsible for enforcing the Elections Act and investigating to determine whether there are reasons to believe that an offence has been committed. In fact, that is exactly what he is currently doing in respect of the Conservative Party.

You will not be surprised to learn that the Liberals intend to support the Bloc motion tonight, because we want to reiterate our full confidence in this independent institution, one that truly enjoys an international reputation for honesty and effectiveness in applying the Elections Act transparently and fairly.

The Liberals are concerned about this situation, now known as the “in and out scandal”, the scheme to funnel money in and out of the Conservative Party to local associations. We have been concerned since August, when we first had public knowledge that an investigation was taking place. After that investigation started, the Conservative Party decided to apply for judicial review in the Federal Court. As I said earlier, we are concerned because the Conservative Party, the party in government, has refused to allow the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a very important committee of this House, to investigate this matter.

As the Bloc’s chief whip said, with the support of the NDP and the Bloc, we decided to put forward a motion at committee in September. That motion, which was moved by my colleague from Kitchener Centre, would have made it possible for the committee and Canadians to hear witnesses, including witnesses from Elections Canada. We could have understood why the people in charge at Elections Canada had decided to investigate, had decided to take a close look at a situation as problematic as this in and out scheme. We could also have heard the Conservative candidates who got in touch with us to tell us they were uneasy about what had happened, they did not support a decision made by Conservative Party headquarters. At that point, those candidates asked to be able to come and give a public account, under oath, of how they saw the facts and how they interpreted what had gone on.

Unfortunately, as my colleague said before me, the government decided to paralyze the committee, to prevent it from hearing those witnesses. They engaged in filibusters, which were frankly embarrassing at some points. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons talked about all sorts of situations that had absolutely nothing to do with the motion before the committee. There was a bizarre situation: the chair of the committee would suddenly adjourn the committing meeting and leave.

He did not even allow the committee to get to the bottom of the systematic obstruction and thus demonstrated how panicked the government actually was at the idea of an attempt to bring a situation as problematic as this into the open.

In a progressive, modern democracy like Canada, Elections Canada, or the independent agency that supervises the electoral process, has an absolutely fundamental role to play. If we are going to have a democracy where the votes of Canadians are counted in an appropriate, fair and equal way, then surely a set of rules governing that process, including limits on spending during an electoral period, are fundamental to ensuring that the process is fair and that there is a level playing field in a period of time as important as a writ period during an election.

From our perspective, Elections Canada has done an appropriate job in every general election in Canada in ensuring that the process is fair and transparent and respects the rights of all candidates and all parties equally. This is something that the current Prime Minister has never believed in.

When the Prime Minister was head of the National Citizens Coalition he even brought to the Supreme Court of Canada a case challenging the rights of third parties to advertise in an unlimited way during an electoral period. In other words, certain voices during a campaign period could be heard because they had the funds to make their voices heard and they could, in fact, seek to override or silence other voices, like those of candidates who fill out the forms and follow the process to put themselves on a ballot to represent their citizens like all of us who have had the privilege of being elected to this House have the responsibility to do.

If we start from a premise that spending limits really have no place in an electoral process, then one should not be surprised when one ends up as the leader of a national party in a tightly fought election that one's party seeks to find every way to get around spending limit legislation and maximize whatever loopholes or spending patterns it can in order to ensure that at the end of the day if it takes $1,300,000 more than they would be allowed from national advertising limits to win in certain races around the country, then a scheme is designed that Elections Canada believes may not have complied with the law.

Let us look at what the precise allegations are.

Elections Canada has essentially identified two problems. One relates to a national spending limit of $18 million that every national party is subject to in an election. Elections Canada has reason to believe that the Conservative Party may have exceeded this national spending limit in terms of advertising nationally during an election period by over $1 million. The issue is whether the party respected the national spending cap. Obviously, Elections Canada, in its investigation, has serious concerns that it may have gone over the national limit and by a large amount of money.

The second issue is the one of refunds. Canadians should understand that in a local campaign, when an election return is filed, eligible local campaign expenses are subject to a 60% refund from Elections Canada if a certain percentage of the vote is obtained in that constituency. That is taxpayer money.

The Conservatives claimed almost $1 million of taxpayer money that Elections Canada says that they are not entitled to. They have offered a series of very weak defences. They say that all parties do this. As was pointed out earlier this morning, that simply is not true. Elections Canada is investigating one party, has found that one party has systematically evaded the spending limits and claimed refunds to which it was not entitled, and that is why the Conservative Party is currently under investigation.

The Conservatives also confuse their own judicial review application with the quasi criminal investigation conducted by the Commissioner of Elections. The Commissioner of Elections is not even a party to their civil action for judicial review and yet somehow they pretend that the investigation is related.

We think this is a serious matter. We think the government has a responsibility to answer questions in this House, which it has not done. We intend to support the motion tonight.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:20 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, although I do not agree with the hon. member's comments, he is respectful in his presentation, as I will be in mine.

I want to ask him about the group ad buy, in which he was a member in the 2006 election, where he joined other New Brunswick Liberals in purchasing a centrally organized and centrally transacted advertisement that was set up by the national party. A copy of the cheque provided by Elections Canada from the local official agent for the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, who also participated in this particular media buy, was made out, not to the newspaper involved, but to the Liberal Party of Canada. All of the content, by the way, was national, except for the local tag lines, and on that tag line appeared his name. His campaign indicated to readers that his campaign had helped pay for the advertisement. However, his returns did not indicate a payment for that advertisement.

I wonder if he can tell us if he was later forced to correct his return to Elections Canada and acknowledge that he was paying into this regional advertisement purchase.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to explain the difference between what the Conservative Party did in terms of having the national party incur the cost for its ads and trying to pass it off on local campaigns, and what the Liberal Party did in the situation in New Brunswick.

In a province like New Brunswick, there are two newspapers that are distributed throughout the province that cover every riding in the province, a francophone and an anglophone daily newspaper. Two or three weeks before the end of the election, in a conference call with the 10 New Brunswick Liberal candidates, the New Brunswick campaign co-chairs asked if we were interested in participating in a regional media buy on the Saturday before the election.

The parliamentary secretary talks about the Liberal Party of Canada. He forgot the bracket after that which says “New Brunswick”, because it was organized by the New Brunswick campaign in Fredericton. He also forgets that is precisely the kind of activity that Elections Canada accepts as being legitimate advertising. We did not have in and out transfers. We had a decision of local campaigns to pay for an ad themselves. It was not imposed upon us and the add was run in the province in which we were candidates.

In the Conservative example, New Brunswick candidates appeared on ads that were running in Nova Scotia. A lot of people from my riding may go to the casino in Halifax but we would not have thought it was an appropriate expense to run ads in a Halifax publication.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, under the Canada Elections Act, once a campaign is over, if there is any surplus remaining in the candidate's campaign that, as a separate legal entity, under the law it must be either transferred to one of the party riding associations, to the party or, in lieu of all of that, back to the Chief Electoral Officer.

However, the existence of a surplus at the end of the campaign does not create an additional rebate. This is an example where we need to look at the difference between cash flow and expense and where it lies. In this case, it would appear that the so-called in and out scheme is a matter in which the differentiation between flow of funds has been mixed up. It is apples and oranges, as the member has explained.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on the issue of cash versus expense and its impact on rebates payable by the taxpayers of Canada?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague has pointed out, the Conservatives, in a rather weak attempt to deflect responsibility for this serious situation and put up smokescreens, have used the idea of a transfer at the end of an election.

A colleague of mine from Quebec, at the end of the election, transferred back to her riding association the surplus of money that was left in the official agent's account. That is a legal, appropriate and contemplated in the legislation transfer of money to dispose of a surplus when a campaign account is closed down.

When we close down a campaign account, it is because we have been audited by Elections Canada and have received direction to dispose of the surplus. That is precisely what is missing in the 67 Conservative candidates that were caught in this scheme.

Elections Canada, in its audit, uncovered these in and out transfers and decided that the decision as to advertising was taken in Ottawa.

There was a bizarre situation and an exchange of emails where the national campaign director said that they needed to allocate money to a certain riding in Quebec but that they did not yet have a candidate there, so they would need a name by the end of the day. That does not sound to me like a local campaign that decided to participate in a scheme like that.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk to this motion. I congratulate the member from the Bloc who brought it forward.

What is occurring here is very troubling. It is particularly troubling that we have to take a day in Parliament to discuss this, but in fact I think it is worth the time that it is going to be accorded.

An institution such as Elections Canada has a reputation that is unimpeachable. The question I find myself asking is this: how did we get here? As parliamentarians, how did we get to the point where nothing is sacrosanct, where impugning the reputation of individuals and institutions is now a normal part of daily discourse, particularly for this government? I think a lot of MPs come here thinking they will do a good job and work hard for their constituents, and then they get caught up in stuff like this coming from the Conservative Party and, by extension, the government. It is very unfortunate.

My colleague, the member for Beauséjour, who has been on this issue for a long time, outlined what we are talking about. Very simply, this is a case of the Conservative Party trying to do two things, in my view.

The first is to get around the spending limit of I think $18.2 million in a national campaign and to do so by taking money, of which the Conservatives have a lot, and flowing it through constituency associations, in most cases constituency associations that are not going to spend the amount of money they are allowed to. They probably are not competitive in a lot of those constituency associations. They take the money, they pool it to pay for national ads and they send the money back, but the hook is that they are then told they qualify for a rebate. In other words, the taxpayers subsidize this form of creative election financing. It is wrong.

In my riding, the Conservative candidate in the last election was one of the 67 or so candidates who were implicated in this scandal. I do not think he is a bad guy. Robert Campbell had never run before. He is an ex-RCMP officer. I do not agree with him on a lot of things, but I do not doubt that he is an honest and decent person. I do not think it is his fault.

I do not think it is necessarily the fault of the people who were involved in this in neighbouring ridings: Halifax West, which the Conservatives will never take from the member for Halifax West, and Halifax, where the Conservatives are not competitive. These are the ridings in Nova Scotia where they used this ploy.

I do not blame Mr. Campbell, who is a decent person, but I do blame the national Conservative Party of Canada, because it came up with this plan and foisted it upon a lot of unsuspecting candidates across Canada. We know that. We can go back to something that Tom Flanagan, the Prime Minister's guru, suggested in his book:

Even though there is a cap on national campaign spending, it is easy and legal to exceed it by transferring expenditures to local campaigns that are not able to spend up to their own legal limits.

So we have a national Conservative Party with a lot of money and some local associations that do not have money. We tell them that if they are part of this they will get a rebate, so why would they not do it? Even some of the Conservative candidates came out and said after the fact that they did not really know exactly what was going on.

There was Mr. Hudson, a Newfoundland campaign official for the Conservatives, who said, “I have realized that this is a transfer in and back out, same day”. That is what he knew about it.

As for other Conservative candidates, there is Mr. McDonald, the official agent for a Conservative candidate in Winnipeg: “Mr. McDonald was not aware of and could not recall receiving any invoice or invoices, from either Retail Media or the Conservative Fund Canada”. He did remember “a wash in and out of our account”.

For another candidate in Toronto, in Trinity-Spadina, the agent suggested, “There was no discussion pertaining to the advertising or its benefit”. He “was simply instructed to post the funds as an advertising expense, and he did so”.

It is pretty clear that what we have is the national Conservative Party of Canada, this institution that now forms the backbone of the Government of Canada, putting this system in place across Canada. It got caught, frankly. I commend my colleague from Beauséjour, who raised this probably close to a year ago when it first came out.

The government laughed it off and asked him what he was talking about. Then we had the fact that Elections Canada said it was pretty serious, and it investigated. What does the government do? It goes after Elections Canada.

If there is a particularly disturbing trend about the Conservative government, it is that it has an enemies list. It does not like people who disagree with it, including members of its own party who do not fall completely into line, such as my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley and my colleague from Halton, who were gone.

Also on that list are programs and organizations that do work the government does not like. The court challenges and status of women programs get penalized, as do non-partisan organizations that do not toe the government line and the Wheat Board, our ethics officer, the Nuclear Safety Commission, and now Elections Canada. As well, journalists who do not print what the government likes do not make the A-list for press conferences.

In short, anybody or anything in the way has to go. MPs who disagree are booted. Public servants who do their jobs are fired. Journalists disliked by the Conservatives are shunned. Rules they do not like, such as the Minister of Finance in regard to tendering, are ignored. Parliamentary committees they do not like are shut down.

That is an appalling way to run a country. It is not the way that the people of Canada want to see this country run. When one maligns an organization like Elections Canada, which does the very important work that it does, it is very concerning. It does important work not just for candidates or at election time but throughout the year in making sure we have a system that works for all Canadians. This should be of concern to all of us.

The integrity of elections is the cornerstone of democracy. We can see it around the world right now and in the last year or so in Zimbabwe, and in Kenya, a country that I had a chance to visit a year ago and which was racked by violence, the immediate precipitator being electoral fraud, similar to Zimbabwe.

As Canadians, we look at that and say it is wrong. In fact, Canadians are well known as people who go all over the world to help fledgling democracies conduct elections, elections that have integrity and in which people can believe when they see the results. We do a strong job as Canadians in making sure that the systems we believe in and the systems others want to have for their own countries are allowed to flourish in free and fair elections.

We do not need that here in Canada because we have Elections Canada. There are things that Elections Canada put into law and has suggested as the rules for Canadians to follow in election campaigns. Any one of us may say that we disagree with this or that, but we know that the integrity of Elections Canada is unassailable.

It is our job as politicians, as members of Parliament, as incumbents, and as challengers in the next election, and we respect our challengers, to follow those laws, to make sure that the elections in which Canadians vote do not carry with them any question about integrity. It is assumed and understood that it is always in place.

The government has gone against that. The government has maligned Elections Canada. I believe it has gone around the rules that we have all accepted as the rules for running elections in Canada. The government should be ashamed of that. I support the motion from the Bloc Québécois. I encourage all members of the House to do the same.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member has raised another dimension of this. Again, it adds another brush stroke to the painting that is being created of the Conservative government and its kind of meanspirited approach to dealing with almost anything, which is to crush dissension.

The motion itself is basically a vote of confidence in Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer. Significantly, the government spoke about all of the errors and problems it has had with Elections Canada but did not express an opinion on whether it is going to support the motion. However, I suspect that it will.

With regard to the debate that seems to have been coming around it, it has to do with what appears to be a scheme. It is pursuant to reviews by Elections Canada of the returns of all candidates from all political parties in the last election. The Conservative Party is the only party that was found by Elections Canada to have allegedly violated the rules of the country with regard to electoral democracy and fairness.

Would the member care to comment on the attitude of the government and the way it is approaching this as opposed to saying that it might have made a mistake? Why does it sue Elections Canada? Is there not a forthright, more acceptable or more appropriate fashion in which to deal with, as it alleges, a dispute with Elections Canada?

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, there certainly is a better way, a more sensible way, a way such that I think Canadians would have said that maybe there is more here than meets the eye. But we did not see that from the government in the way it approached the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. We did not see it from the government in the way it approached the Wheat Board or the ethics officer or untold other non-partisan, non-political organizations and individuals.

This is simple in its design. There is all this money nationally and a party wants to funnel it to the local associations so they can pool their money to pay for the national ads, to get around the spending limits and also to bulk up the rebates. I think of the old expression “to have your cake and eat it too”. This is a case of the government having its cake, eating it too, getting somebody else to pay for it, and then suing the person who sold them the cake, all in one big package. It is unconscionable.

It is wrong. It is simple in its execution but it is devious in its principle. If the government would take a more reasonable, sensible and Canadian approach to dealing with organizations with which it has issues, Canadians would be a lot more likely to say that maybe they could give the government the benefit of the doubt. That doubt is long gone.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the member opposite with respect to his speech. I will be quoting Robin Sears, the former NDP campaign director. He makes a few comments with reference to the NDP and also with respect to the Liberals. He said:

Various New Democrats' filings reveal that in their more centralist structure, more money flows up than down, but they too mix national and local spending freely....

Many Liberals and New Democrats are horrified by all of this. They know that it could be their turn next.

I think it is important as we look at the matter before us today to be aware that all the parties were involved in similar types of transactions. I think it is quite safe to say that in regard to numerous constituencies across the country, mine included. I have in four elections run national advertisements with the little tag at the bottom. It is not really the right of Elections Canada to decide if I am to use hot air balloons or ads on the back of men's bathroom stalls at the university. That is my choice and it is in terms of the funding of it as well, or if the national party deems to give me money in that respect. I would suggest to the member that this is something that other parties have been involved in. He would want to respond to that.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have some respect for Mr. Sears, Mr. Mulroney's spokesperson, whom my colleague mentions. I think he is right on a lot of issues, but he is not specifically addressing the in and out system. A lot of us do different things that are entirely legal within the purview of Elections Canada. What is being done here is not legal. It has been pointed out by Elections Canada as being specifically not in keeping with the Canada Elections Act. Other things have not been. There are many things that we all do and we make sure they are done with the support of Elections Canada. What the Conservatives did violates the election law and it is wrong.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the discussion on the Bloc motion, which expresses confidence in Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections. It is important that we have an opportunity to debate this, given the current political context in Canada and some of the allegations and concerns raised by the Conservative Party about Elections Canada. We have to state very clearly our support for this important institution.

I want to share my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for Timmins—James Bay.

Elections Canada is our independent non-partisan agency that manages elections in Canada. As such, it has to be prepared at all times to conduct a federal general election, byelection or referendum and also to administer the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act to monitor compliance and enforce electoral legislation. It is also mandated to conduct voter education and information programs and to provide support to the independent boundaries commissions in charge of adjusting boundaries of federal elections following each 10 year census. It also has a mandate to look at voting methods and to test electronic voting processes for future use during elections.

It is a very important mandate and one that all of us appreciate as fundamental to our democracy in Canada. Elections Canada's mission is very basic and stated clearly, “Ensuring that Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and be a candidate”. It is simply and succinctly stated. Any of us who have anything to do with the democratic process in Canada realize how fundamental and important that is to Canada and all Canadians.

Elections Canada hopes it will do this by expressing a number of important values in its day to day activities and decision making. It lists those values to be: a knowledgeable and professional workforce; transparency in everything it does; responsiveness to the needs of Canadians involved in the electoral process; cohesiveness and consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act; continuously earning and maintaining the public's trust; and stewardship and accountability in how it manages its resources. Many of those things are being questioned by the Conservatives. The consistency in administering the Canada Elections Act is being questioned by the Conservatives, as they try to shift responsibility for what they did in the past federal election. They are trying to chip away at Elections Canada's long-standing record of being consistent in how it administers the Canada Elections Act.

The Commissioner of Canada Elections has a particular responsibility. The commissioner is an independent officer whose duty is to ensure that the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act are complied with and enforced. The commissioner is actually appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. That is another very important officer related to the electoral process in Canada. I am glad the Bloc motion also asks us to express our confidence in the commissioner. I will be pleased to vote in support of the motion both to express confidence in Elections Canada and in the commissioner.

It is sad that we have reached this point where a political party in the House of Commons has felt the need to table this kind of motion. Hopefully all parliamentarians will stand in their places and vote confidence in Elections Canada.

It is sad that the Conservative Party has tried to chip away at the reputation of Elections Canada because of its problems in following Canada's election law. The reality is we have one political party under investigation for its practices during the past campaign, and only one. The Conservatives need to take responsibility for their actions in the last Parliament and do everything they can to see that the issue is solved.

Frankly, I do not have confidence that they have done this, given the fact it was necessary for Elections Canada and the RCMP to conduct a raid on the Conservative Party headquarters. To me this indicates there was not full cooperation in resolving the questions related to the election return of the Conservative Party.

It is sad that many Canadians see again another political scandal, this time involving the Conservative Party, a party that came to power promising to be clean and transparent and to operate a good government in contrast with the mess the Liberal Party had created with the sponsorship scandal. I think many Canadians are very disappointed and have had enough of this kind of political scandal. I think they hope to see another direction taken.

It is also sad when this kind of scandal detracts from the important issues of the day. It would be great if we could talk about the rising gas prices that affect so many people in so many different ways, or health care and the need for doctors and nurses, or the housing and homelessness crisis, which affects so many Canadians. It is so crucial in our country, yet we do not spend the kind of time or have the same kind of accountability as we do around this political scandal. This is all very unfortunate. I, too, have had enough, like many Canadians.

If one were to ask me if I have confidence in Elections Canada, I most certainly do. Part of that is due to my own experience over many years as both an election organizer and as a candidate. It is partly due to the folks locally who worked for Elections Canada in Burnaby—Douglas over the years, people like James Pavich and Ann Crittenden.

Neither of them currently work for Elections Canada so I feel I can easily sing their praises in this forum and in this debate. In fact, James passed away a few years ago. He was the returning officer in Burnaby—Douglas and Ann was a member of his team, I think his second-in-command. They ran the electoral process in Burnaby—Douglas and did so in an amazing fashion. They were well-organized. They knew the provisions of the Canada Elections Act. They had good relationship with all the political parties and the campaigns in Burnaby—Douglas over many years. There were never questions about the fairness of the elections there. Where there were problems, they were quickly sorted out. Where they had questions of us, we provided the information and found the solutions to those issues.

James Pavich and Ann Crittenden are excellent examples of the kind of people who work for Elections Canada at the local level, in fact who work for Elections Canada, period. They have a great sense of commitment to the democratic process. They want to see an independent and non-partisan approach to our electoral process and they know how to get down and get the details of running a fair election. They know how to get it done and done fairly. They are very important to this process.

Without people like that, our democracy would be sadly lacking. We owe it to all the people who, at the local level, participate with Elections Canada. We know that setting up a one-day operation, in a sense, of the size and scale of our election machine is a very difficult job. To organize the workers for that one day of work, to train them and to see that they are all in place on election day and for the advance polls is a very significant challenge in our ridings, as diverse as they are, covering diverse geographic areas and covering the very different kinds of neighbourhoods we have in the urban areas of Canada as well.

I thank the people who work locally for Elections Canada and who follow in the fine tradition of people like James Pavich and Ann Crittenden.

Elections Canada has an excellent reputation around the world, as well, whether it is organizing elections in democratic development in Afghanistan, or working on the bill of electoral rights for people with disabilities, or participating with other electoral organizations around the world in conferences, in capacity building, or the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network Program of which Elections Canada is part, or the work that it has done in Iraq to develop the democratic development and the electoral process there.

Elections Canada is recognized around the world for its important commitment, knowledge and expertise. Hopefully later today the House will have an opportunity to stand and vote strong confidence in Elections Canada for all the important work it does both here and around the world.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I endorse the comments that have been made by the member for Burnaby—Douglas about Elections Canada.

I want to raise one issue. Earlier in the House the parliamentary secretary singled out my riding of East Vancouver as though it and other ridings were involved in the same kind of scam and scheme that the Conservative Party tried to pull off. This deserves an answer and a correction of the information, which has been erroneously put out by the Conservatives.

The fact is the Conservative Party was trying to get around the ceiling it had for its national ad buy and it used ridings like East Vancouver, which it had no hope of winning. In some cases it slipped in tens of thousands of dollars in what were supposedly local ads, but were truly national ads. The Conservatives did this by using a very low local ceiling.

In the case of the NDP, its national party bought an ad buy for local candidates, and we participated in that. The riding of the member for Burnaby—Douglas also participated. Because it was organized by the national campaign and was an ad buy, we all paid our share of it. Because it was a local ad, it went under the local ceiling. It was something completely—

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:45 a.m.

An hon. member

It had to be authorized by the official agent too.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

It was authorized by the official agent. It is very curious and ironic that the Conservatives are now trying to completely confuse the issue by making out that this is something everybody is doing. Having a shared ad and people paying a portion of what their local share is for a local ad under the ceiling is going by the rules. This is why it was done that way.

The Conservatives have been trying to get around their national ceiling. In fact, the NDP, nationally, was way below its ceiling for ads. In fact, it would never even contemplate such a scheme. Ironically, East Vancouver was very close to its ceiling because it had a low voter list. Not many people were on it. Therefore, it had a low election spending limit. It was suggested that somehow the NDP was putting something under its ceiling because it was trying to help the national party. Why would we do it in Vancouver East? It was so close to its ceiling?

This needs to be cleared up. Could the member comment on it? I know his campaign participated in the same local ad that we all did and—

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver East raises a very important point. One of the features of our electoral system has been tight restrictions on how much money is spent and how it is spent in election campaigns. Canadians have been justly proud of that kind of electoral practice.

We often look south of the border to the United States and see the billions of dollars that are spent on electoral campaigns. We are thankful we do not have the same kind of situation. We have chosen to limit how much money can be spent during an election campaign. Elections are not for the buying in Canada and there are legitimate expenses related to an electoral campaign, but there have to be limits placed on how much can be spent. Canadians want that to be observed. They do not want to see political parties scheming to find ways around that. It is sad when political parties spend more time scheming to avoid election rules rather than trying to conform to them and practise them appropriately.

I have confidence in the practices in my riding and in the official agent, who is a very experienced person when it comes to following the guidelines of elections both federally and provincially. She has done this for many years. She has a very high ethical standard and she would certainly raise questions if at any time a proposal did seem not to fit with the appropriate understanding of the electoral law in Canada. She would do her utmost to get the proper advice before any expenditure was made.

Lila Wing in Burnaby—Douglas has spent many years trying to understand our electoral law, the obligations of a riding and a campaign and to meet those obligations during an election and the reporting afterward. That kind of standard is important to follow in this kind of process.

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here this morning as the member representing the great region of Timmins—James Bay, and as the NDP critic for democratic reform.

We support the Bloc Québécois' motion. Indeed, the Parliament of Canada must express its confidence in Elections Canada, which is an institution that plays a critical role in Canada's democratic life.

It is a pretty disturbing situation that this motion even has to come forward. We have seen a disturbing trend over the last number of years where the institution of Parliament and the institution of voting has become more and more ridiculed across this country.

I certainly know, in my riding and anywhere I travel in Canada, of the lack of confidence that people have in politicians and the lack of trustworthiness of politicians. Politician jokes are everywhere. They used to be funny, but there is an element that is not funny anymore, because I think what they are expressing is the average citizen's disgust with the fact that Parliament is being turned into something of a circus and that the real decision making is happening in the backrooms, in the boardrooms and in the war rooms of the political parties.

When we talk about the role of Elections Canada in this country, it is to ensure, number one, that we have a fair and open democratic process and that everyone plays by the rules. There is probably not a single member of Parliament in this House who has not been questioned at least once, twice or three times by Elections Canada because they are very thorough.

When we are running elections in 308-odd ridings across this country, most often with volunteers, mistakes are made. There are many hard-working and honest politicians in this House who do their best with their elections committees to ensure that they play by the rules. Elections Canada will double-check, triple-check, and it will come back to us to make sure that we did follow the rules because following the rules is essential to ensure that we actually have a fair and democratic process, so that elections are not simply bought and people do not simply make up the rules on the fly.

When I first ran for office, my campaign manager gave me one piece of advice. He said, “If you are not sure, do not do it”. That is the ethical standard that we as politicians must apply to how we operate our offices, how we operate in dealing with our power as members of Parliament, and how we have to operate our election campaigns. If we are not sure, we should not do it. If it is a grey area, we should leave it alone.

Unfortunately, we have seen, both from the Liberals and from the Conservatives, a general tradition of looking at the rules as though they were corporate tax lawyers looking for loopholes, looking for how to get around the rules, and then coming back and trying to explain it to the Canadian people as though it were a perfectly normal and natural thing that happened.

What has happened in this case with the in and out scandal is not perfectly normal and it is not perfectly natural. The Conservative Party is trying to deflect attention by blaming Elections Canada and referring to the RCMP raid as a publicity stunt. Our nation's police force went and got an injunction because it believed something serious had occurred, a serious breach of public trust. We have heard the Conservatives trying to claim that this is somehow a fight for freedom of expression. They have twisted all the facts to get the attention away, to tell the people back home not to look at the essential issue of what is happening here.

What is happening here is that we had a party that had reached its spending limits and it was trying to find a way to get around those spending limits.

The reason we have election rules in this country is so that parties cannot buy elections. In particular when we have an election that is very close, we have to ensure that people or parties are not able to circumvent the rules to buy the election.

What happened was we had an elaborate scheme that was set up at the party headquarters to find ways to get around this national ceiling, to be able to buy $1.2 million more in national advertising at a time when a party felt that those ads might actually win it the election, so it had to find places to funnel that money.

If we look at the list of ridings where money was funnelled to, it really becomes clear that this begins to look very similar to a money laundering scheme, that the money is moved into ridings on the condition that it will be moved right back out and sent back to headquarters, yet it will appear as clean money because it is being charged technically to the riding, even though the riding has no benefit of it.

I am looking at ridings where money was funnelled into, and I notice a number of ridings in northern Ontario where the Conservatives' chances of getting elected are as dismal today as they were in 2006.

My own riding of Timmins--James Bay is the size of Great Britain and only $25,000 was spent on the entire campaign there. Of that, 40% or $10,000 of a $25,000 ceiling was used by the party to buy ads on a national level.

I remember that campaign well. Our Conservative opponents worked very hard to try and get their message out, and yet I do not remember seeing pamphlets in any great number. We did not see any signs for Stephen Harper, and I am speaking of him strictly in the capacity as a candidate not in the capacity as Prime Minister--

Opposition Motion—Elections CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. Unfortunately, the hon. member cannot do that. If the member wants to refer to the person whose name was on the signs he can use the riding or the title.